Gareth Southgate fears he will have to make a late decision over Jordan Henderson’s involvement at the delayed European Championship finals, with one of his key players likely to be short of high-level match sharpness.
The England manager said Henderson, who underwent groin surgery at the end of February, faced a fitness race that would go “close to the end of the season”. He will not select anybody for the summer tournament who is not in top physical shape.
Southgate is preparing for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Albania in Tirana, where he expects to be without Marcus Rashford (ankle) and Bukayo Saka (hamstring). Henderson, the Liverpool captain, was injured in his club’s home defeat by Everton on 20 February.
“In terms of promises, we can only say that Hendo himself is very optimistic about how the operation went and the prognosis that the specialist has given him as to what is possible,” Southgate said. “We are conscious that with any injury of that nature, there is a guide and a time defined – but that anything can happen along the way.
“We know it’s going to be close to the end of the season and we will just have to see how it goes. He will give himself every chance of being available. And, of course, we also know he is likely to be a bit short of match minutes in high-level games. There are a lot of things to take into consideration but, at the moment, that is a decision that is a few weeks away.”
Southgate hopes that the pitch at Albania’s national stadium will be in good condition despite recent concerns over it. The Air Albania Stadium was opened a year ago but there have been problems with the grass, caused partly by shadow from a stand.
“We know there has been a lot of work done on the pitch,” Southgate said. “It is a new stadium and we don’t know any more than that. Albania have been working really hard to get it into the best possible condition.”
Southgate said that Nick Pope would start against Albania and in Wednesday’s home tie with Poland. The goalkeeper, who played in Thursday’s 5-0 Wembley win over San Marino, has his extended opportunity because of injury to Jordan Pickford. Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone are the other goalkeepers in the squad.